Case Study: Howard University Takes the 'HiPath' to Campus Connectivity

When H. Patrick Swygert took over as president of Howard University in 1995 he immediately began implementing a two-part plan as the university's "blueprint for transition to the 21st century." Recognizing that technology would provide a substantial part of that blueprint, Swygert dedicated many of the objectives in the plan and $10.2 million to upgrading the IT infrastructure on his campus.

The university's lack of up-to-date technologies was illustrated by the fact that in 1995 only 1% of its faculty members had access to the campus network. Years later, the school was still relying on Centrex telephone service and a wireless network to connect dormitory buildings to the campus network. With the costs of Centrex growing, the limitation of 11 MB transmission speeds on the wireless network, and poor or nonexistent TV reception in the dorms, the university was ready for an upgrade.

"Most students come to [the university] already dependent on digital technologies," says Charles Moore, Ph.D., interim vice provost and CIO of Howard University. "They are keyboard savvy, have relied on voice mail and other telephone features, and certainly are well acquainted with cable television. When [students] come here they have an expectation that these resources, which they have long enjoyed in their homes, will also be available to them in their dormitories."

Swygert's plans were ambitious: He sought to provide all 4,800 students living in residence halls with enhanced telephone services, access to the university's data network and the Internet, 40 channels of commercial TV, and 10 channels of university TV. In addition, the university wanted to provide all these services through a single faceplate for each student in every dorm room. "We wanted to let students bring their own hardware and just plug it into the wall jacks, making implementation of the technologies they rely on for being productive - and for having fun - as easy as possible," says Moore.

Converging Networks

The university quickly narrowed the field down to two vendors, eventually selecting Siemens Enterprise Networks. "While both vendors offered us the technology we needed, only Siemens had also focused on building a relationship with us from the presales phase right through to the decision time," Moore says.

Once selected, Siemens had no small task. The dormitory networking project involved installing 250,000 feet of fiber cable for the network backbone and for in-building risers, 1.8 million feet of Category 5 copper cable to support voice and data links between wiring closets and dormitory rooms, and 920,000 feet of coaxial cable for bringing cable TV to student rooms. In addition, three of the 12 dorms are located off-campus, making it difficult to link them to the campus using the traditional hard-wired infrastructure. In order to converge the voice, video and data networks in this complex scenario, Siemens used its HiPath enterprise convergence architecture. This approach enabled the university to merge all three elements onto a single network, while still leaving plenty of room for future upgrades.

As configured, Howard University relies on a total of five Siemens Hicom 300 PBXs distributed across three campuses. The nine on-campus dormitories are linked to these switches via the fiber infrastructure, risers and Siemens HiPath HG 3800 gateways. Of the three additional off-campus dormitories, two are linked to the campus via line-of-sight wireless technology and one is linked with T1 lines leased from a local carrier.

"Siemens offered sole source responsibility for the entire project - from design through installation of the cabling infrastructure, implementation of the voice network, and integration of this network with both data and cable TV elements," says Moore. "In addition, they offered training, support, maintenance and even financing."

Access From Everywhere

With the project complete, Howard University has become one of the most technologically advanced universities in the country. Students and faculty not only have new high-speed Internet and cable TV access, but they also can use advanced phone features such as voice conferencing. All of these services are provided free to the students from a single faceplate in their room.

In addition to being ambitious in scope, the project had a rigid timetable. Most vendors told the university that such a project would be impossible to completely implement in less than a year. But with the help of the Siemens team, the university achieved the feat in just six months. With the network in place, the university hopes not only to improve the tools available for current students, but is confident that the new services will be attractive to potential students as well.

According to Moore, Howard University views this project as a step in the right direction, with more upgrades to come. The university is currently in the process of issuing new computers to all 1,200 full-time faculty members. It also hopes to blanket the campus with wireless Internet access soon, giving faculty and students access to the network from everywhere.

Contact Information

Siemens Enterprise Networks
San Jose, CA
(800) 765-6123

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.